HandyDart strike leaves disabled passengers out in the cold

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      Since the onset of the HandyDart strike, UBC counselling psychology instructor Vaughan Marshall has been teaching three-hour classes in her rain gear.

      A single mother who has suffered from rheumatoid arthritis since she was a teenager, Marshall told the Georgia Straight that she regularly used HandyDart—a service set up to help people disabled to the extent that they can’t use regular transit—before its drivers began striking on October 26. She commutes from the side of the campus she lives on to the other. Now she has to travel the whole distance in her power wheelchair.

      Marshall also has to get to the G. F. Strong Rehabilitation Centre on Laurel Street so she can teach vocational rehabilitation courses part-time. Things were supposed to be better for people like Marshall and the system’s estimated 30,000 users, after TransLink contracted out the 27-year-old HandyDart service to the for-profit MVT Canadian Bus Inc.

      In October 2008, MVT—a subsidiary of California-based MV Transportation Inc.—was awarded a $113-million contract to run the HandyDart system in Metro Vancouver for three years. Within 10 months of MVT’s takeover of the system on January 1, however, the HandyDart operators went on strike.

      “For several months, I thought, ”˜Okay, we’re in a transition period and things are going to get better,’ ” Marshall said of MVT. “Things have not gotten any better. I’m really busy, I work more than full-time, and I’m a single parent. I don’t have time. It’s so disrespectful of people’s time to keep people waiting.”

      HandyDart’s Vancouver founder, Tim Louis, called it “utterly dreadful” that MVT is in a labour dispute with Local 1724 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents HandyDart workers. Assessing the impact of the work stoppage on people’s lives, the former Coalition of Progressive Electors city councillor and park board commissioner recalled the 2001 transit strike.

      “As bad as that was, there were other alternatives: hitchhike or hop in a car with a friend,” Louis told the Straight. “With the thousands of people in the Greater Vancouver area that use HandyDart, people that don’t have the ability to hitchhike or to hop in a car, the alternatives are very few or none. What that means is we have got thousands of people literally homebound as a result of the labour dispute.”

      Louis added in a later call that Vancouver never had a HandyDart work stoppage before MVT came into the picture.

      ATU Local 1724 vice president Tim Johnston told the Straight that HandyDart workers have always supported Louis’s vision of having several nonprofit societies running the service. Now TransLink has brought about the amalgamation of the regional nonprofits into a private “one-service provider,” he noted.

      MVT has proposed hourly wages of $21 “upon ratification” and $21.25 effective January 1, 2010, according to figures MVT spokesperson Zdenka Buric e-mailed to the Straight.

      But Johnston said this is not retroactive, and he added that a SkyTrain worker makes $28 an hour standing on a platform checking tickets. Johnston has driven for HandyDart for 17 years and has two sisters in the same job. He said they try not to talk shop with each other in private because of how steamed they are about what’s going on in the workplace.

      “Our main issues are definitely pension,” Johnston said. “They are trying to eliminate our pension. They are trying to eliminate, or reduce, our benefits.”¦There are several other issues, but they are insignificant compared to these major ones.”

      Both Marshall and Louis agree with Local 1724’s position that MVT should agree to binding arbitration.

      The Straight asked Buric if this was a possibility, and she replied: “Not at this time.”

      TransLink spokesperson Ken Hardie told the Straight the regional transportation authority’s hands are tied.

      “We have no legal right to do that,” Hardie said by phone of bringing MVT to arbitration. “They are a contractor. We don’t run their business.”¦We have no legal standing in this regard.”

      Marshall said she is so furious about the strike that she wants TransLink to punt MVT and negotiate a new contract with another party.

      Numbers behind the HandyDart strike

      > HandyDart drivers’ current hourly wage: $20.25

      > Wage MVT is offering: $21 upon ratification, $21.25 in 2010

      > Wage ATU Local 1724 is demanding: $25.35

      > Percentage of HandyDart employees covered under existing pension plan: 60%

      > Percentage of HandyDart employees ATU wants covered under pension plan: 100%

      > What MVT is offering: all employees move to self-directed RRSPs in lieu of pension plans

      Sources: ATU Local 1724 vice president Tim Johnston, MVT spokesperson Zdenka Buric

      Comments

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      42 Comments

      Pablo

      Nov 26, 2009 at 7:57am

      The reason the government and Translink want nothing to do in dealing properly with the situation is that the 30,000 Handydart users have no real impact on deciding who will win an election.

      Beryle Chambers

      Nov 26, 2009 at 8:06am

      From the very beginning of MVT Canadian taking over HandyDart the company attitude has been one of arrogance, indifference and greed. I am a regular handidart user, taking it to my part-time job four days a week and have had terrible experiences with handidart being late due to their overbooking of the buses. Now drivers and management are deadlocked. regarding a contract. The union has changed its position to accept an independent arbiter's binding decision. MVT, on the other hand, refuses to do so. Binding arbitration has been used effectively for many years as a way for both sides to save face when disagreements are hopelessly deadlocked. While the union has shown concern for customers by changing their position in a bid to get buses rolling again, the company continues to prolong the strike. Especially, during the cold, rainy weather, users are often unable to go out without the HandyDart. Doctors appointments, work, school classes, shopping have become almost impossible. Think of Scrooge grasping at pennies with his bony fingers - while others are left out in the cold. That is MVT. Unconcerned about anything but the bottom line, a maverick riding a willful, wrathful trail - leaving pain and distress to all in its wake. Donald Trump would be proud of their money first attitude. In Canada, that type of attitude is nothing short of reprehensible. MVT what are you afraid of? Justice? Get those buses moving!

      Carolyn Zazubek

      Nov 26, 2009 at 9:41am

      Your pension facts require slight modification. Although MVT promised to apply to be covered by the MPP, they only applied for a "Temporary Membership" until the new contract was ratified. The MPP rejected this as there is no temporary membership and invited MVT to submit an application for full membership. MVT has not done so.

      YET THEY CONTINUE TO DEDUCT MONEY FROM MY PAYCHEQUE UNDER THE CATEGORY MPP.

      So they have not honoured their original promise to keep employees covered by MPP. In addition, they say that the monies that they are deducting from our cheques are held in a Trust Fund until we get the pension/rrsp situation resolved. BUT THIS IS APPARENTLY A NON-INTEREST BEARING TRUST FUND. so the 60% of employees previously covered by the MPP have now 1. lost their MPP, and 2. lost out on the interest on that money. This from a company that says they treat their employees like "family".

      Even more important, in my mind, is the fact that MVT, itself a contract, wants to be able to contract out itself, so even if we get everything we ask for in the contract, we still might be out of a job.

      This is completely unacceptable.

      Thanks to Vaughn Marshall for her show of support - she is a dynamite lady whom I admire immensely.

      Please feel fre to publish my reply online or in hard comp. Thankyou.

      Skippy Love

      Nov 26, 2009 at 10:23am

      A very good read,i support these workers.

      Donna

      Nov 26, 2009 at 11:29am

      The contract should never have been given to a foreign for profit company in the first place.
      They do not live in the community, have zero interest in the community, and are sending Canadian tax payer dollars to the USA.

      The company has shown its disdain towards the clients and workers, and now there is a backlash.

      MVT should be send packing back to where they came from and HandyDART should become a wholly owned subsidiary of TransLink. HandyDART should be treated the same as Coast Mountain, Skytrain and Seabus, etc.

      carolyn Zazubek

      Nov 26, 2009 at 11:34am

      pablo, last time I looked, persons with disabilities had the right to vote.

      Graham Henderson

      Nov 26, 2009 at 11:53am

      The position Translink has taken, according to Ken Hardie, is that they have no legal right nor responsibility to intervene in the dispute. I,m calling him on this point, because as the body with direct oversight of the entire transit system INCLUDING HandyDart, Translink sets out the parameters under which each contractor must operate, and if a contractor does not meet those criteria, Translink can, no, MUST review the performance of the contractor.Not only has MVT Canadian Bus Inc.not met the terms of their agreement with Translink to provide a seamless service to the community of the disabled, the service, has seriously deteriorated to the point that many passengers are not only forced to ride on the vehicles for periods of time, much longer than is necessary, in other cases are abondoned to their own resources.
      Having driven for HandyDart since it's inception and for the Easter Seal program prior, I have seen the mean spirited manner in which, initially B.C. Transit and subsequently Translink have treated our passengers as well as employees. It seems that they will continue this course until something is done to dissuade them. The public at large need to be reminded that people who rely on HandyDart are grandparents, parents, and children of ours with the distinct possibility that we too may become a part of the ridership.

      Fred Johnson

      Nov 26, 2009 at 12:47pm

      Translink should re-tender this contract. There are Canadian companies who bid this work lower than MVT and who are certainly aware of the need to maintain the rights and benefits of the dedicated and hardworking Handydart workers. Translink needs to admit their mistake in awarding this contract to a company who is unwilling to negotiate from a position where they actually care about the futures of their employees and their customers.

      GB

      Nov 26, 2009 at 3:20pm

      MVT needs to get back to the table and treat there employees with respect. The employees for one deserve the security of the MPP that they had until MVT took it away, they deserve to know that there job, whether a driver or office worker, will not be contracted out, and that they have the security of knowing the benifits for medical, dental and extended health will not be capped. MVT made there bid on this service based on the best of the eight regions current contract with room for improvement. MVT promised great things for this service, to be improved for workers and the clients who deserve top notch service, but what has been happening is a travisty. My sister uses handydart every day, it is her only way of getting our of her home. I use handydart and have not been able to. Please, I ask, no I demand, that MVT get back on track, give there head a shake and wake up to the fact that this is Canada and our disabled and elderly need this service up and running, NOW. Christmas is coming so lets give the clients and the workers a great present, and do some fair negotiations. Now!

      A driver

      Nov 26, 2009 at 3:53pm

      Something I haven't seen mentioned here, is the dedication and personal involvement that the Members who work for Handydart have with the passengers. It's a commitment that I have never seen before in my years in the workforce. The patience,respect,love for the passengers is deserving of the right to a decent pension and opportunity to retire with dignity. We are underpaid,undervalued by this emlpoyer and Translink, as are the passengers we transport. Many of them do not have a voice and we, the members are not only speaking for ourselves, we are speaking for the disgusting way MV has treated them also. MV is stealing money from me every month and say it's my MPP on my paystub. Where is that money as we don't have an MPP? They said we had full benefits. Until April 1st. They never tell the truth. They said they've never been on strike. New York 2006.
      They lie. Translink and MV are holding People with Disabilities hostage. They simply don't care.